Monday, 29 July 2013

Petty, Potty and Pointless. What the 'P' in planning really stands for.

I'm all for Planning, but not necessarily for planning.

With a capital 'P' it stands for 'the bigger picture'; the macro shape and structure of towns or neighbourhoods and conservation of the better parts of our heritage.

With a small 'p' it means petty, pointless and potty - small-minded, very conservative control on a micro level.

All too often, it seems to me, planning departments opt to focus on nit-picky irrelevant little things and lack the vision or the skills to look long term at our wider urban landscape.

Our little W8 house, for example, is going through the planning process as we speak. And it's a pretty soul destroying exercise for the architect.

Not one single interesting element of his ideas passed the so-called Pre-App stage (sounds like some historian's pre-ipad catch phrase).

It's an end of terrace, so we applied to put windows into the end wall. Several other ends of terrace in the same road already have windows. REJECTED.

The rear of the house faces the solid end wall of another terrace. So with nothing to look over, we applied for a raised ground floor terrace. REJECTED.

There is an existing small rear extension reaching up nearly to the full height of the building. To improve the usability of the internal floor-plate, we asked to increase its height by a mere 0.6m. REJECTED.

For some reason the planners wish to 'protect' the 'v' shaped roofs of our terrace from the evil that is mansard extensions....even though from the road you can't actually see the roof at all. NOT EVEN CONSIDERED.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

There is NO logic to any of this.

For example, I live in the same borough in a little terrace house that looks out onto the back of another row of terraced houses. Currently one house that backs onto our garden is being redeveloped. It has permission to build a raised ground floor terrace that looks directly into several houses and will be a serious invasion of our privacy. Explain, therefore, Mr/Mrs Planner, why, in the same borough, we can't have a terrace that looks directly over nobody! It's a bloody nonsense.

It seems to me that some of the best urban planning in central London is being driven not by the boroughs but by the large private estates like Grosvenor and Cadogan. Now, as readers of this blog will know, I'm no great fan of these estates and their managers, but at least they take a long view and try to enhance whole neighbourhoods (for their own gain, of course).

Just look at how Cadogan has transformed the area around Duke of York's Square, or the work Grosvenor has put into shaping the future of Mount Street in Mayfair, or how the de Walden estate (I think) has lead the rejuvenation of Marylebone High Street over several decades. These have all added to the quality of London life.

All the local boroughs seem to be interested in is a narrow-minded kind of conservation. Or, perversely, creating dangerous new road schemes like the ridiculous Exhibition Road revamp and the lethal road crossing outside Sloane Square tube.

The big estates (and I hate to say it, I really do) have done far more to retain the character, quality and elegance of our city than any borough.

In the case of our little W8 house, it is actually questionable whether houses like this should be left standing at all.

It was very badly and very cheaply built. It is, of course, in no way 'eco-friendly'. It was designed to serve a population happy to live in pokey rooms to cope with inefficient heating systems of old. It is completely unsuited to a 21st century resident. In fact, if you were being honest, the whole terrace of 5 houses should really be knocked down and make way for something more suitable.

But this is so politically incorrect I could probably get into trouble for even saying that.

In fact, there's only one 'P' that really sums up the attitude of planners: Pathetic.

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